Nitrox - What's That All About?

Author: Nigel Pirie, December 2008

Diving Phuket

Nigel Pirie - self-potrait!

I started planning this dive holiday to Phuket, as we all do, straight after the last one, and, having completed thirty dives again in two weeks, Iain suggested we look at a Nitrox course. Hmmm, seems interesting, maybe he's right. So keeping this in mind I kept trawling the web for the best Phuket flight plan and the best time for us to go, and now the day's started to draw near to our departure. One or two emails to go, booked the bungalows in Kata centre, and now it's all down to our dive plan.

So over to you Iain, and returning from request was a different plan than usual. Yes, still thirty dives, but Iain suggested maybe we look at some more training! Yes the Nitrox again. What's all that about then? Persuading the brother-in-law (Stu) was not easy. Anyway, mission accomplished, all booked, here we come.

A Warm Welcome

As usual on arrival we trekked down to Lek's bar in Kata centre for a few drinks where we met Jeanette, an old dive friend from Melbourne, Australia, So into a tuk tuk we jumped and traveled across to see Iain, Oui and Abbie. All the usual hugs and kisses out of the way, a couple more beers and then the presentation! Yes two nice blue folders with Nitrox books in. Here's your bedtime reading, after tea reading, in fact "whenever you can" reading, oh and a DVD to watch before you start reading. Settling down for a few more beers and watching the big match, Iain's team Arsenal getting beat by my team Stoke, it was obvious we were in for a good dive holiday.

Study Time

Seahorse at Phi Phi

Of course we had sore heads in the morning, but hey no diving today, so out with the DVD and get studying. Yes, studying by the pool in forty plus degrees heat, nice cool drinks, hmmmm. Hello what's all this then! More Recreational Dive Planners (RDPs) and an EAD! and a green and yellow book! So off we went into this green and yellow book learning all about Nitrox. Back to basics, out came the old (RDP), and notes, and then we started to remember those early days of learning to dive. After completing stage one, and getting all the questions right it was off to stage two. Wow, what's all this about then? An EAD! and an Oxygen Partial Pressure (ata) table.

By now we had adopted the phrase "What's all that about?" in a Cockney accent, and continued to use this phrase for almost everything including some most bizarre marine life seen during our stay in Phuket. Well enough studying today, time to relax and sort our dive gear out for tomorrows diving. Yes, we had three dives, and remember last year? One solid hour each dive, no current, good viz, sheer bliss it was. Back to studying. This time Max came along and guided us through the old and new RDPs and EAD tables. Although at first it's quite daunting it's actually quite easy. Just study a little at time and before you know it you've completed section two, and like us, got all the questions right!

Why Nitrox?

Barracuda at Racha Noi

So, "What's it all about, Nitrox"? It's actually enriched air, yes enriched air, air with more than 21% oxygen. So, how's that good for me? Remember nitrogen and the problems associated with it? Well with less nitrogen in your gas you absorb less nitrogen during the dive. Well that's got to be good for you, and hey, you can stay down deeper for longer so no more missing those golden opportunities at depth, and every chance of getting the one hour dive in. Ok, now we get to use the Nitrox. Max was our guide today. and again we had three dives. Iain had already planned the dives, and the oxygen percentage we would use and when to use them. So more tuition from Max as to why the percentage was chosen and which dives to use it. Then out came the oxygen analyzer and a lesson on how to measure the oxygen content of our respective tanks, record them, and change our dive computers to this percentage. Easy!

Is that it? Basically yes, apart from the exam. Was this easy? Well it is if you don't cheat during your studying, just complete the questions one at a time before pressing on to the next, and try changing some of the formulas with different percentages and times. A few extra sheets of A4 came in handy, and, of course, a readily available instructor to help you out (as we had). Our exam was taken during the overnight dive trip to Phi Phi so, after completing it, what better place to celebrate than Hippy's bar on the beach at Phi Phi.

Buzzing

Staghorn coral at Racha Noi

And does it make a difference? Yes! After the day's diving we normally felt a little tired after three dives but we actually felt quite good. In fact, we were almost buzzing. Did we stay down longer than everyone else? Yes, but then we always do but now it's longer at depth. Now we had got it off to an art, oxygen percentage chosen, dive computers set, all forms filled out, and into the depths we went, just like old professionals, and, yes, we chose to dive with Nitrox for some of the remaining dives.

By now we had set a reputation of being first in the water and last out, one hour dives, not just with Nitrox but also with air, all achieved just by planning your dive profile and relaxing on your dive. So you can imagine to our horror on the last dive when the tour leader stated a maximum dive time of fifty minutes! What's all that about then Stu? So in we go, first in of course, all the usual stuff: good viz, loads of fishes and still no current. Yes, two weeks with no current, gently fining around looking for the macro stuff. Time went very quickly, so up to the safety stop and then back on the boat.

So do I recommend this Nitrox stuff? Absolutely, it's going to be the future, so get in there now and enjoy staying deep longer. Many thanks to Iain, Oui and Max of Sharkey Scuba dive centre Karon.


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